Day mileage: 22
AT total mileage: 1,858.4
Time: 10.5 hours
Shortly after midnight an incredible amount of rain stormed through the Ethan Pond area, pummeling the tin roof of the shelter like 1,000 children learning to tap dance. Despite some drips from the ceiling, I fell back asleep quickly and awoke again a few hours later as the abrasive SOBO hiker began packing up. I'm not sure why, but despite the silence that the rest of us shared as some continued to sleep, she loudly began talking about her hike and her adventures through Maine. I got up and quickly packed, doing my best to avoid spending any more time around her than I had to. We ate breakfast at the designated cooking area, an AMC attempt to cut down on beer activity in the shelter areas. For whatever reason we had another late departure morning, leaving the Ethan Pond shelter around 9:30 and headed northbound.
The initial part of the day would be comprised of a 3 mile drop out of one mountain ridge, crossing VT 302 and heading up the other side towards the summit of Mt. Webster. The climb was fair but steep, a demanding ascent that netted gorgeous views from the Webster cliffs overlooking the gap below. It was difficult to hike at any decent pace, as I constantly turned around to stare out at the view. The upper portions of Webster were quite challenging, demanding hand-over-hand rock scrambles on multiple occasions. Crossing over the peak we turned towards Mt. Jackson at an elevation of 4,052 feet, turning downhill and pushing on towards the AMC Mizpah Spring Hut. It was shortly before the hut that I got cell service and fought my phone to post the last two days of blogs. Hurrying on to catch Santa and Legs at the hut, we ate a quick lunch and pressed on for the summit of Mt. Washington. With 6 miles to go including the summits of Mt. Pierce, Eisenhower, and Monroe, Santa pressed on alone hoping to make it to Washington's summit visitor with enough time to get a hot dog and bowl of chili that many hikers feast on during their Presidential Range traverse. Legs and I hiked at a bit of a slower rate, hiking the 3 peaks before the final ascent of Washington, stopping for a few minutes at the famous Lake of the Clouds hut to refill water. Packed with paying customers staying in the hut, we talked with two thru-hikers for a short while before hiking on. The 0.8 miles from the hut to Washington's peak would be a steep and rocky traverse in a stiff wind, constantly pushing me around and making some steps very difficult. Luckily the expected storm system didn't seem present in the sky, and nobody at the Lake hut encouraged us to not summit, so we hiked on into gorgeous and windy skies.
We arrived atop New England's highest peak, the second highest summit on the Appalachian Trail, shortly after 1830hrs. At 6,288 feet above sea level, the wind was insane, yanking my Red Sox hat off my head more than once. The summit was deserted as the stores had all closed an hour earlier, and after taking a few photos with the elevation sign, Legs and I headed down the opposite side of the mountain and set our sights on Madison Springs hut located another 6 miles north on the trail. With 16 or so miles under our belt for the day already, we wanted to slow a bit but maintained a steady pace as the sky began filling with darker clouds. The sun set in a gorgeous fashion as we crossed between the summits of Mt. Clay and Jefferson, both well over 5,000' in elevation, with the sky becoming exceptionally dark as we descended the back side of Mt. Jefferson. You're all aware that night hiking isn't my favorite activity, but this was a totally different kind of night hike. The long climb up Mt. Adams was exceptionally rocky and jagged, making for a great traverse in the pitch black. With 2 miles left to the hut we continued on, fighting against the steady wind, searching with my headlamp to retain sight of the trail. It is unbelievably hard to follow a trail in the dark when it is comprised solely of boulders with no real markings, so I spent half my time searching the darkness in front of me with my narrow beam of light for some marking on which to base my trajectory. We pulled into the hut after descending Jefferson to find the place pitch black. The time was shortly after 2200hrs, and everyone was asleep. We woke Santa up, currently asleep on the hut's dining room floor, to let him know we were alive and well then proceeded back outside to cook our dinners. Warm soup and pasta was an amazing treat in the chill of the night as occasional rain and clouds whipped quickly by the large moon, causing shadows to dance across the stone porch in front of the hut.
We'll sleep on the floor of the dining room alongside Santa and Radio Man, as well as two southbound thru-hikers that we haven't met yet. Tomorrow will hold an unknown amount of miles, likely in the same range as today. I won't do a +30 day through the Whites, but a 22 mile hike over the Presidential range is nothing to scoff at, so I'll be proud of that. Being in a warm and wind proof building is amazing, and though we'll have to sleep quickly to be out of the way before the hut caretakers serve the paying customers breakfast in the morning, it'll be a good night of sleep.
16 days to Katahdin. Onward & upward.